Council Leaders need to stop Labouring under the delusion that they are in control says Jenny Ross
Ostensibly, devolution seems like a good thing, a chance for an area to become autonomous, no longer subject to the hostile whims of Westminster, free to chart its own destiny and define itself on its own terms; but scrutinise the DevoManc deal and you’ll see that Osborne’s much touted ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is more like a ‘Mancunian Workhouse’ offering about as much freedom to Greater Manchester as a choke lead does to an errant dog, and Osborne has wasted no time tightening the lead.
“Responsibility for a devolved and consolidated transport budget, with a multi-year settlement” clearly seemed like a good idea at the time to the ten, mainly Labour, council leaders who rushed off behind closed doors to sign the DevoManc deal with George Osborne, without the merest whiff of public oversight. Unfortunately, like people about to be taken in by a payday loan lender, they forgot to heed the small print: that the deal is “subject to future Spending Review”.
The Chancellor’s post-election ’emergency budget’ just so happens to assure that every single ‘freedom’ Osborne had bestowed on Greater Manchester was precisely where he was making the most brutal cuts: transport, further education and business and skills.
Now Council leaders’ opportunity to build a Greater Manchester integrated transport system to rival London’s winning Transport for London has been severely impeded by Osborne hacking £545 million off the national transport budget, and devolved powers to “shape and re-structure the further education provision” and design business skills provision have both been hit by a £450 million national shortfall. Bad news for apprenticeship schemes in an area with some of the highest youth employment in the country.
What was sold as an opportunity to protect Greater Manchester from Westminster cuts seems, in the cold light of day, to be nothing more than having further responsibility for passing them down. With no opportunity to raise taxes, only an an ‘earnback scheme’ posited on narrow national growth targets, and subject to sanction if they’re not met, Tory-led Westminster are still calling the tune and Labour Council Heads are far too keen to dance to it, particularly when one of the dubious privileges they’ve been awarded is to co-commission the Workfare programme – playing Fagin to Osbourne’s Scrooge.
In an area where both Tameside and Wigan councils have volunteered to subject the most vulnerable members of their boroughs to the vagaries of Universal Credit and Troubled Families pilot schemes, alongside zealously enforcing the government sanction regime, the karmic irony can’t be lost on people that when Council Leaders are inevitably forced to go to Osborne begging bowl in hand to ask “Please Sir, can we have some more?” The answer, to the detriment of us all, will inevitably be, “No.”
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